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Controlled Substance Violations Can Ruin Your Green Card Chances.

Even if It’s Legal in the state where you are, drug use can have severe immigration consequences. A conviction for possession of a controlled substance (unless a one time conviction for under 30g of marijuana) can bar an immigrant from eligibility for a green card. Cocaine, heroine, methamphetamines, ecstacy, speed, you name it – even in minor amounts – has no waiver available under federal immigration law.  Even if not convicted of a controlled substance offense, if USCIS has “reason to believe” that you are a drug trafficker, you will also not be eligible for a green card permanently.  Reason to believe is not defined by the law and is thus, very subjective. The courts so far have only used language equating to having “probable cause” or “reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence”, a standard less difficult to prove than a preponderance of the evidence (so less than a 50% burden to show that you are likely a drug trafficker based on admissions, conduct, past arrests or convictions, or other behavior). 

Similarly, if applying for a green card through the adjustment of status process, if an immigrant admits to using marijuana, even if legal in the state where s/he resides, this could lead to denial of their green card case. Marijuana possession is still a federal offense even if not in certain states. If one admits to committing the essential elements of a crime under federal law or state law, it has the same affect as actually committing the crime for purposes of U.S. immigration consequences (an admission = conviction).  An immigrant can get into trouble if s/he admits to drug use to a USCIS civil surgeon (USCIS doctor) as part of the standard medical exam for the adjustment of status process. This information can lead to their inadmissability based on drug addiction or a controlled substance crime admission.  

Controlled Substance Violations Can Lead to Losing Your Green Card and Deportation.

And for those with green cards already, possession of an illegal controlled substance can lead to deportation from the U.S.  Conviction for drug sales of illegal narcotics are considered crimes of moral turpitude and can also be a ground for deportation for an LPR (lawful permanent resident).  

Controlled Substance Admission or Conviction Can Lead to Denial of Naturalization or Citizenship Application.

An applicant for U.S. citizenship through naturalization must prove that s/he is a person of good moral character. Admission of ongoing drug use, even if legal in the state but which violates federal controlled substance act, during the requisite 3 or 5 year period required for good moral character and denied of the naturalization case. 

What to Do If You Are Being Charged with a Drug Crime and You are an Immigrant.

Involve a competent, licensed, experienced immigration attorney in your criminal defense early – before you ever agree to a plea.  Your criminal attorney should welcome the input of an immigration attorney since criminal attorneys are also on the line for providing ineffective assistance of counsel when they don’t know or properly advise on the immigration consequences of a potential criminal plea. 

Even if you already have a conviction, have an immigration attorney review the transcripts including what you were charged with, pled to, and convicted of including your sentence, to determine any negative immigration consequences and to determine if there is a way to reopen the criminal proceeding to vacate the conviction and eliminate any negative immigration consequences. There are special provisions in certain states now that protect immigrants and provide the option to take back pleas that were made to crimes that were harmful to their immigration status because of failure to notify the immigrant of the plea consequences to their immigration status, failure to provide competent legal counsel or even challenge state court decisions based on a judge’s  failure to provide correct legal advisals related to immigration consequences of accepting a certain plea, and much more. 

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